I will definitely be using these in the future when I revise my books, to be sure that everything's in place--and more importantly, that I, the eternal pantser, understand what's happening. Even if you've got your plot in great shape, knowing what the pieces are can help you throughout revision to maintain that stability and hold onto your theme. I realized when I looked over these structures that I had, indeed, naturally fallen into the right pattern for IF YOU PRICK US, but seeing that was an incredible help as I rewrote.
So here they are: a few different ways of plotting out your book so that it flows, using The Hunger Games as an example. *Spoilers ahoy*
This fill-in-the-blank gets the plot down to its essential parts that also determine character and theme:
More than anything, [main character] wants [goal or desire]. But [MC] has a flaw: [whatever internal problem may keep the MC from the goal]. When [inciting incident], [MC's] world is turned upside down. Now [what the MC needs to do to overcome the inciting incident/external conflict]. Along the way, [what the MC learns that helps him/her understand his/her flaw]. When faced with [climactic conflict], [MC] has to [make a choice or do a thing that overcomes both external and internal problems] [or else something bad].
With The Hunger Games as the sample, it appears like so:
More than anything, Katniss Everdeen wants to keep her little sister, Prim, safe. But Katniss has a flaw: she has trouble putting her faith in anyone else. When Prim is chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, a government-sponsored fight to the death on public television, Katniss's world is turned upside down. Now Katniss must volunteer to take Prim's place and fight to survive the death match. Along the way, she is forced to put her trust in fellow tributes Rue and Peeta, as well as her mentor, Haymitch, in order to stay alive. When faced with killing Peeta in order to become the winner of the Games, Katniss must choose whether to murder the boy who loves her or whether to trust that he will stand by her in rebelling against the all-powerful Capitol.
This is a three-act, plot-centric outline that looks at key moments in the external conflict:
Act One: Opening Image
Act Two: Break into Act Two
Fun and Games
Bad Guys Close In
All is Lost
Dark Night of the Soul
Act Three: Break into Act Three
It's a constant push-pull between hope and loss, with the B story, which is often the romantic line, acting as a secondary influence on the main conflict. With The Hunger Games, it looks like this:
Act One: Opening Image: Katniss wakes to find that Prim, afraid of the upcoming Reaping, has gone to
cuddle with their mother.
Theme Introduced: Katniss lives in a harsh world and doesn't even trust her mother to protect them,
showing her inability to let others into her life.
Set-Up: Katniss goes hunting with Gale and then they all get ready for the Reaping, which sets up the
world of Panem in more detail.
Catalyst: Prim is reaped for the Hunger Games and Katniss volunteers in her place.
Debate: Faced with her new team, including Haymitch and Peeta, Katniss realizes that Peeta, in saving
her sister's life earlier on, has touched her heart. She struggles to isolate herself in a situation where
she will need to kill him, and she simultaneously refuses to turn her trust over to the people who are
there to help her.
Act Two: Break into Act Two: The Games begin and Katniss must run for her life.
B Story: Peeta's earlier confession of love for Katniss confuses her as she sees him join the Careers. She
becomes friends with Rue, who reminds her of Prim.
Fun and Games: Katniss and Rue set up and enact a plot to destroy the Careers' supplies.
Midpoint: Rue is killed. Katniss, who has come to love and trust Rue, shows defiance against the Capitol
by singing, covering Rue in flowers, and memorializing her with the three-finger salute.
Bad Guys Close In: The Gamemakers announce that tributes from the same District, if they both survive
to the end, will be allowed to win together. Katniss must track down Peeta before anyone else finds
him and play enough romance to get them sponsored gifts.
All is Lost: Peeta is dying from a terrible infection in his leg, which the Careers sliced open when he
betrayed them to save Katniss. He insists that Katniss not go out into open danger in order to get him
the medicine he needs.
Dark Night of the Soul: Katniss chooses to get the medicine despite the risk and nearly dies.
Act Three: Break into Act Three: Peeta and Katniss are recovering from their injuries. They are the only
District team still intact and are beginning to see hope that they may return home. Their 'romance'
Finale: The Gamemakers force the remaining players into the open using dog mutts, and Peeta and
Katniss must fight against Cato, the top Career. They manage to kill Cato while both remaining alive, at
which point the Gamemakers tell them that only one of them will be allowed to win. Katniss, instead of
killing Peeta, makes the choice to attempt a double suicide in the hopes that it'll force the
Gamemakers' hand. They are both announced winners after all.
Final Image: Katniss and Peeta return home, and Katniss admits to Peeta that the romance may have
been fake for her. She fears that she will face consequences for defying the Capitol.
Keep in mind that The Hunger Games is the first in a series, which means that the ending will not be as resolved as it is in completed stories. There needs to be a bit of a build again to set up the next book.
This structure, also three-act, focuses on the internal conflict and the development of the character.
Act One: Defining Moment
Call to Action
Act Two: Awakening
Act Three: Descent
So this plays out similarly to the Beat Sheet, but it keeps the lens on the personal and internal:
Act One: Defining Moment: Katniss loves her little sister dearly and wants to protect her from the
Reaping as well as the rest of the darkness in her world of Panem. She cannot trust others to protect
Inciting Incident: Katniss sacrifices herself for her little sister by volunteering for the Games, and now
must murder others in order to return to her sister. However, Peeta, who once saved both their lives,
has been chosen as another tribute.
Call to Action: Katniss is pushed by Haymitch and Cinna to trust her team and open herself up to the
cameras so that she can get sponsors and stay alive. Peeta's public admission of love for her pushes
forward the "star-crossed lovers" tactic.
Act Two: Awakening: Katniss breaks trust at the beginning of the Games and refuses all help for some
time, even as Peeta allies himself with the Careers in order to protect her. However, Rue breaks
Katniss's boundaries and gains her affection and trust.
Midpoint: Rue's death causes Katniss to prioritize the needs of Panem's citizens over her own life, and
she creates a memorial for Rue, showing that she is 'not a piece in the games' and that Rue's life
was of value, which is her first true rebellion against the Capitol and their Games.
Grace: Katniss and Peeta meet up again now that they are 'officially' allowed to be allies, and Katniss
cares for him and opens herself up to the romance they're playing, even though the cameras deeply
affect her awareness of it.
Fall: However, Peeta is dying from the infection in his leg and in order to save him, Katniss will have to
risk her life out in the open.
Death Experience: Katniss chooses to go for the medicine and nearly dies in the process.
Act Three: Descent: The end of the Games is coming, and though Peeta has partly recovered, Katniss
continues to wonder if he's more of a help or a burden to her. She also is confused about their
romance, and whether it's real to Peeta or even to herself. At last the finale comes and they fight Cato
to the death, barely surviving themselves.
Transformational Moment: The Gamemakers tell Katniss and Peeta that only one of them will be allowed
to win. Peeta offers his own life up so Katniss can live, but Katniss can't bear to break the trust that
they have created. She chooses to risk her own life, trusting Peeta to do the same, in an act of rebellion
against the Capitol that may allow them both to survive.
Climax: Katniss and Peeta put the nightlock berries in their mouths and the Gamemakers stop them,
allowing them both to be victors.
Resolution: Katniss and Peeta return home to District 12, but Katniss fears the consequences of her
actions. She knows that she has put the people she cares about in danger by rebelling. She admits to
Peeta that, in the end, she's not sure whether the romance between them was real or not, thus
breaking the very trust that she had wanted to preserve.
Again, you see the uptick at the end there that sets up the next book.
Overall, this seems like it's going to be really helpful for me, and I'm super glad I got to learn about plot structure in my class.
Thanks for reading! I'll see you again Tuesday.
Images via illiteratebooks.com, atlantaladylitwits.wordpress.com, and pop-verse.com.